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Ancient Roman Comedy

  • By: David M. Christenson
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Although no contemporaneous physical evidence for the floruit of Roman comic theater (ca. 210–160 BCE) survives, the extant plays of Plautus (d. 184 BCE) and Terence (d. 159 BCE), later artistic representations of Roman theater, and other testimony suggest that a large part of its humor was immediate and visual. Roman comedy's elaborate semiotics of masks, costumes, and associated stock characters instantly marked a performance as comic, specifically in the tradition of the palliata or “play in Greek dress,” as Roman comedies based on Greek New Comedy models were called, and so neither tragic nor a form of native Italian Comedy. For example, at least some of Roman comedy's clever slaves sported grotesque masks with megaphone mouths, red hair, and clown's feet, while old men ...

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